05 January 2012

On Being Coached

I haven't even been blogging for a whole month, let alone the entirety of 2011, but I've already closed the books on the year. 2011 marked an enormous change in perspective for me, which was mostly caused by my coach. Have I told you that story? Most likely not since I have...ummmyeah...TEN published posts. Well now is as good of a time as ever. Let me start at the beginning.
2010 USAT Halfmax Champs: first time racing on aero wheels.
My final triathlon of 2010 (oh, so long ago!) was the USAT Halfmax National Champs in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was the first race I've ever flown to (although my bike got to drive there with other St. Louis Tri Club athletes). I rode my road bike with clip-on aerobars and borrowed 404s. I ran in my trail shoes because my regular shoes hadn't come in yet. I had a decent day for my fitness at the time, but finished way down in the AG standings because lots of other girls were way fitter. And faster. But I was satisfied with completing my first almost-HIM (swim was cancelled). I said good night to the 2010 triathlon season, tucked it into bed, and got ready to go out with my off-road friends for some winter fun. Several weeks later, I got an email from USAT saying a roll-down spot for the 2011 ITU Long Course World Champs had made its way to me. Saywhaaa? I didn't know it would go down that far, but I guess with some girls aging-up and whatnot, I made the cut. I didn't have to think twice about this one...racing in an international race, wearing a USA kit, actually IN the USA? Sign me up!
2010 USAT Halfmax Champs: finish line.
As I began digesting the distances for ITU LC Worlds, I knew I would need help. A 4k (2.5mi) swim, 120k (74.5mi) bike with lots of climbing, and a 30k (18.3mi) run with more climbing sounded like something a little beyond my triathlon comfort zone. I had always scoffed at the idea of coaches before, thinking they were either for the uncurious, the lazy, or the advanced athletes (3 groups which I am not a part of). But the pressure of racing in a Team USA kit forced me to think about how to best prepare myself for this race, and deep down, I knew I couldn't do it alone.
The many faces of GoSonja!

Fortuitously, I read lots of blogs, and the author of one of those blogs just happened to post about this same time that she would be starting to coach in 2011, and was accepting a few athletes-slash-guinea pigs. I nervously wrote an email, trying to strike the right balance between tenacious and teachable, and sent it off. We traded some emails, mostly with me wondering HOW this was gonna work, but in the end Sonja's positive attitude, appreciation for the off-road side of me, and general bad-assery won me over and I signed up.
Ya know, just a little run on the Lost Coast. From http://gosonja.com/?p=5767

Signed up for what? Well, I was soon to learn (like many of her athletes do) that, in training, more is not better except when it is under MAF, faster is not better except when it's in the pool, and total health (body + mind) is the name of the game. Was I freaking out when I had HR caps in my workouts that limited my run speed to 13-minute miles? And dudes in basketball shorts were passing me? You betcha, but I kept telling myself "you paid this woman, now you follow her instructions". And follow them I did.

What do I think of coaching now? Well, I've signed up again with Sonja for 2012, so that should tell you all you need to know. In general, if you have the resources and can connect with a coach who you believe in and most importantly believes in YOU, then absolutely go for it. Having a coach released a gigantic amount of stress I didn't even know I was placing on myself. Being uncoached, I was always wondering...is it enough? Did I ride far enough today? Did I run fast enough up that hill? Did I do enough 100s in the pool? Training was never really...OVER...because I could always be convinced (by other people or myself) that I wasn't doing enough and maybe I really should sneak in that last fast run.
The beloved colored boxes of TrainingPeaks. Not my schedule though! Those "secrets" shall not be revealed! From http://www.trainstravels.co.uk/coaching/triathlon-coaching-package/

Some people have commented to me that they don't want a coach because they don't want stress about another person telling them what to do every day. I couldn't agree less. Having a coach that provides you with daily workouts REDUCES so much stress, it's great. I just execute what the little colored boxes in TrainingPeaks tell me, then I go to sleep. Easy. Done. No extra thinking required (except when writing my post-workout comments, and that's a GOOD think) and I am confident that it's finally enough. Good coaches know how to integrate enough training into your life schedule. That's why you pay them, and if your coach is putting too much on your plate, speak up!!
Now that's one full plate. Gross, eh? From http://www.nbcphillysandwichmom.com/?paged=2

Being coached as also opened up my mind to a whole new philosophy on training. I am more grounded in the development of aerobic capacity. Training has become much more personal: I do what's important for ME on THAT DAY, and everyone else can take their let's-race-to-the-top-of-that-there-hill and shove it (unless, of course, that's what on my "schedule" and I feel good, then game on). I have learned the value of recovery and many different ways to encourage it. And...bottom line...I AM FASTER.
Eloquence, defined! From http://chuckiev.blogspot.com/

Still isn't enough for you? Check out some much more eloquent words on coaching, from my former grand-coach, here.

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  1. This is such an awesome post, mainly because it's exactly how I feel about being coached...removes so much stress! I had no idea how much I was racing my workouts (in a friendly manner but still!) until I started with a coach. And of course, Sonja is awesome!!!

  2. Great post, Emily! Loved this part: "more is not better except when it is under MAF, faster is not better except when it's in the pool, and total health (body + mind) is the name of the game." Well said. Here's to a great 2012!

  3. Great post indeed! Her guidance was so important for me, esp in the weeks leading up to IM.

  4. thanks, ponies!! Katie, I totally agree that my whole workout M.O. changed within one week of becoming coached. eye-opening indeed.

  5. I hired a coach because I was honest with myself that I was biting off more that I can chew. My coach's job is make sure I am prepared for the race and get me to the start line healthy. It's my job to cross the finish line. I trust my coach completely and communicate with her often.